In the aftermath of Sunday morning's fatal gunfight on Bourbon Street, city and police officials met with French Quarter business leaders Monday to talk over possible new measures aimed at curtailing future eruptions of bloodshed in the city's oldest neighborhood and biggest tourism magnet.
Meanwhile, some business owners and neighborhood residents embraced a proposal by Sidney Torres IV, the local sanitation contractor, to set up metal detectors around the Quarter's raucous entertainment district, at least as a stopgap measure during special events like last weekend's Bayou Classic football game.
The return of fatal gunfire to Bourbon Street early Sunday morning prompted a call for drast…
Robert Watters, president of the French Quarter Business Association, said he met Monday with Ryan Berni, a top adviser to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and 8th District Police Cmdr. Nicholas Gernon to discuss possible safety improvements.
Business owners are looking at "a broad range of possibilities," Watters said, declining to discuss any specific proposals.
"Obviously, we’re all appalled and very concerned for the victims of the crime," said Watters, who owns Rick's Cabaret on Bourbon Street. "In terms of moving forward, I think that out of tragedies, growth is often achieved. It’s a good time for the entire community to come together and look at a broad range of systemic solutions to improve the French Quarter and to improve safety for visitors and residents alike."
One person has died and nine others were injured in a shooting on Bourbon Street early Sunday morning...
The shooting has raised concerns about its potential impact on tourism, the city's most important industry. "No city is immune to these types of incidents in our society today, and safety is paramount to our entire industry’s future," said Butch Spyridon, chief executive officer and president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
A number of tourists walking down Bourbon Street on Monday seemed unfazed by the shooting. Some seemed to accept that violence is simply a part of the city's culture.
"We've been to New Orleans many times, so we knew better than to be on Bourbon Street that particular Saturday night with crowds letting out after the Bayou Classic," said Hale Kronenberg, a California resident who has visited the city for six consecutive years. "But this won't deter us from coming back."
Lt. Billy Nungesser told the Monroe News Star that the mass shooting represented the type of violence that could "destroy" the state's tourism industry. "Something has to change," he said. "We have to do something now before we let thugs kill tourism."
However, local hospitality leaders said they don't expect the fatal shooting to cause lasting damage to the city’s vital tourism industry, and they urged patience.
"Right now, the mood of the community is that they want every solution on the table and to be discussed," said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Perry questioned the feasibility of Torres' proposal. He said it also had been suggested to him that the French Quarter should be designated a gun-free area altogether, with violators facing enhanced penalties.
"You will hear a lot of things bounced out there that are both inappropriate and not legal," he said. "Our job is going to be to sit down and examine those things that can help us have a French Quarter that is open and safe, but has some elements of restriction involved. We're going to have to sit down carefully and figure those out, but we're going to have to get the facts first."
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said there are no immediate plans to increase the number of troopers deployed to the French Quarter. Right now, between 30 and 50 troopers are on patrol in New Orleans on a given day — a contingent in place since the last mass shooting on Bourbon Street, in mid-2014.
"When you look at the presence of police, I think they were everywhere" Sunday morning, Edmonson said. "I don't know that you could have done anything differently from a policing aspect."
NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said late Sunday that two men believed to be from out of town brought an argument to Bourbon Street and opened fire, killing 25-year-old Baton Rouge artist Demontris Toliver and wounding nine others.
His friends said Demontris Toliver, a 25-year-old apprentice tattoo artist from Baton Rouge,…
Harrison said at least 30 officers were within a block of the shooting, and surveillance video showed a swarm of officers arriving on foot and horseback less than a half-minute after the gunfire sent a thick crowd running.
"I don't think they were concerned about where police were," Edmonson said of the gunmen. "I think they were concerned with that moment."
Edmonson said he would like to see better lighting and more surveillance cameras in the French Quarter.
As for the idea of metal detectors, Edmonson said, "It certainly sounds good, and it would be a deterrent to guns. But how are you going to do it if you don't have enough manpower? You're going to have to man those stations at every entrance to the French Quarter, and you'd have to do it 24/7.
"It's an option," he added, "but I think it'd be very, very difficult to deploy around the French Quarter."
A mass shooting on Bourbon Street Sunday that left one dead and nine others injured is exact…
In a back-of-the-napkin calculation, Torres said a 22-person security detail working a 12-hour shift during special events from Canal Street to St. Ann Street would cost $6,600 per shift.
Those workers could ensure that anyone entering the entertainment district with a weapon was legally allowed to carry it or had a concealed carry permit, Torres said.
Just how that would be done is uncertain, and Torres acknowledged his proposal needs fleshing out.
"This is an idea that I came up with within an hour," he said Sunday. "I'm not the mayor. I'm not a political official. I'm a business owner looking at it, saying, 'Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a solution.' I'm saying it would feel nice to see someone coming up with a drastic plan immediately."
As a model, Torres pointed to Memphis, Tennessee, where officials responded to trouble on Beale Street, including stampedes, by setting up security checkpoints around the city's popular party district on Saturday nights. Patrons pay a small entry fee to help pay for the added security.
"It's truly a phenomenal program," said Ken Taylor, executive director of the Beale Street Merchants Association, who added that the use of security wands during peak hours has reduced crime. "For all intents and purposes, it has solved 99.9 percent of the issues that we've had."
However sketchy the details remain, Earl Bernhardt, co-owner of three Tropical Isle bars on Bourbon Street, is already sold on Torres' idea, saying he has started to worry he won't be able to hire anyone willing to work during special events.
"I think that's a wonderful idea. People would feel much safer," said Bernhardt, who helped found the French Quarter Business League.
"I think it should be done at major events like the Bayou Classic and Mardi Gras," he said. "It's not 100 percent perfect, because people could sneak in around the roadblocks, but if you got the one gun away from the guy who shoots, you've done a lot."
Sunday morning's shooting was the third major eruption of gunfire on Bourbon Street in a little more than five years.
On Halloween night in 2011, a gunman opened fire near the Chris Owens Club at 500 Bourbon, killing 25-year-old Albert Glover and wounding seven others.
In late June 2014, an early morning gun battle between two men in the 700 block of Bourbon left nine wounded and killed a bystander, 21-year-old Hammond nursing student Brittany Thomas.
That shooting, coming just before Essence Fest, the city's premier summer festival, prompted Landrieu to call for an influx of state troopers to help patrol the Quarter amid a continuing police manpower shortfall.
The shooting also prompted Torres to launch the French Quarter Task Force, a team of off-duty officers riding in Smart cars and fielding calls through a mobile app that he created. That patrol is now sustained by a sales tax increase that French Quarter voters passed last year.
Neighborhood resident Bob Simms, who oversees the patrols under the French Quarter Management District, said Torres' latest proposal "sounds reasonable."
"Clearly, we have to do something. We just can't let this continue, so we need some creative solutions," Simms said. "Sidney's put one on the table, a near-term solution."
Simms noted that over the weekend, officers booked 11 people on suspicion of illegal gun possession in or near the French Quarter. Many of those cases resulted from officers approaching people smoking marijuana in the open, court records show.
"The undercover guys are looking for the people with guns, but you have to have probable cause to stop them," Simms noted. "I believe they are proactively looking to take guns off the streets. Trouble is, there's an awful lot of guns on the streets."
New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said that city leaders, in weighing their response to Sunday's shooting, should consider "the very liberal gun laws in this state."
"It’s a horrible situation," Guidry said, "and I know we’re all going to be putting our heads together to see what we can do to curtail this type of thing."
Staff writer Richard Thompson contributed to this report.